The world didn’t end in 2012 (whew). But things could still get hairy sometime in the future. So, what would you need to carry on after the grid permanently dissolves? What are the necessities, and how could you improve your chances of accessing them over the long haul? As a team of curious souls, we decided to dive into the brain trust of the unsociably paranoid and prepared — the sharers of secrets across dedicated survival blogs and forums — in search of answers. This guide is the result of our online-BA in shit-hits-the-fan preparedness and covers the foundation of supplies you (and your family) will need to have on hand for a shot at beating odds, given a few assumptions.
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Our planning starts with the notion that you’ll have a designated base of operation to venture out from — so we’re taking permanent shelter as a given. In most cases, this would be your current home, granted the gods decide not to Maya dance it into dust. If you’re one of the few souls scared shitless enough to have created an off-site survival bunker, well then, you’ll be entitled to the last miserable laugh; hopefully you already own most of this list.
The second assumption is that your home is subject to changing seasons and temperatures. Again, those of you who call the coast of California home can skip some of these recommendations with a smile — that is, if you haven’t been swallowed by the San Andreas fault, or the dust clouds from falling mountains don’t send the entire world into a permanent winter.
Finally, we’ve assumed that the Mayan gods’ wrath, Mother Nature’s revolt against her human parasites, and/or the mutated Bieber fever strain ravaging the populous has spared you, the protagonist. But you’re a resourceful, brave, smart guy, right? Of course you’ll survive. Ahem.
Now that you know the stakes, your survival supply list starts here.
The good days of complaining about mom’s meatloaf are over
Twinkies are officially kaput, so you’ll need an alternative means of sustenance over the long haul. Plenty of companies offer extended supplies of freeze-dried food — but these tap into your water supply and still require cooking to eat, which in turn requires fuel of some sort. For these reasons, a year’s supply of MREs (meals ready to eat) is a better option for transitional stores. The self-contained meals require no cooking, can be eaten hot or cold and have a shelf life of five years, providing a reliable nutrition window until you can begin sustainable food cultivation on your own.
“The duration of survival without food is greatly influenced by factors such as body weight, genetic variation, other health considerations and, most importantly, the presence or absence of dehydration. At the age of 74 and already slight of build, Mahatma Gandhi survived 21 days of total starvation while only allowing himself sips of water.” – Alan D. Lieberson, M.D. for Scientific American
Lasting beyond your MREs will depend on a green thumb and gathering skills. Buying a variety of non-hybrid, non-GMO (non-genetically modified organism) vegetable seeds is a must for any future gardening plans. These are commonly referred to as Heirloom seeds, but that’s a generic bit of branding — so don’t buy off of the Heirloom labeling alone. You want non-GMO because genetically modified plants are often sterile (Monsanto doesn’t give a damn about your end of the world preps). You want non-hybrid because these seeds are open-pollinated, passed down through generations, and true to type. This means you can save the seeds from the resulting crops to plant the next harvest, and you’ll get the same plant. Buy enough to plant a few acres at max, and you’ll have an excellent starting point for a lifetime a food. If you can fish, hunt or gather, you might even avoid dying as a vegetarian.
To store that home-grown produce, it’s a good idea to take up canning, which turns fruits and vegetables into still-tasty, one- to five-year sustenance goldmines. The combination of airtight containers (like glass jars, which you can stock up on and shouldn’t be that hard to locate even once the world takes a nose dive) and pre-boiling food before it goes on a long vinegar nap prevents pretty much any contamination from microorganisms. Curing (simply an intense dry rub process involving salt, sugar and nitrates) adds a similar level of longevity to meats. Together, both preservation methods are the perfect way to survive a holed-up, food-short winter.
A resource that’ll finally get the respect it deserves
Water is the most important survival resource of all; unfortunately, guaranteeing prolonged access to it is nearly impossible unless you live near a freshwater lake or river. Ideally, before doomsday strikes you’ve had the foresight to stock up a hefty supply in the form of a 1,000 gallon plastic tank filled with potable tap water from your home’s mainline. Plastic is important, as it’s less likely than metal to react to the water within. Based on a rate of consumption of a gallon a day per family member — that means no hour-long showers for your daughter — this supply would last a mindful family of three for a year. Store it in a cool, dark place, away from hydrocarbon fumes like gas or kerosene, which may adversely interact with the plastic over time.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), two percent of the earth’s water is fresh. Of that supply, the glaciers and ice caps of Greenland & Antarctica contain about 70% of this total supply. Nearly 50% of the world’s freshwater lakes are located in Canada alone — so there’s finally a reason to visit beyond Poutine.
If you plan on stockpiling for more than a year, your tap water should be treated with a small amount of unscented household bleach that contains 5.25% sodium hypochlorite for preservation. One teaspoon of bleach will disinfect five gallons. A 1,000 gallon tank needs a full pint. Pour it in and stir for 30 minutes. When the bleach smell fades, you’re good to go. It doesn’t sound great, but this method is actually quite effective at killing bacteria and viruses — and it won’t kill you — we swear.
Beyond initial supplies, the next best logical step is to create potable water via gravity water filters. Boiling and distillation are the absolute best methods for purifying water in a pinch, but both require that the water is heated to work — and cut into fuel supplies. Gravity filters, on the other hand, require no heat or power source, have zero moving parts (so they’re less prone to breakage) and can be left to work without supervision. Big Berkey Waterfilters make great, large scale gravity filter systems for the home. Each filter is good for roughly 3,000 gallons of pure water, and many of their larger models rely on multiple filters to treat water faster. That’s a great use life, but you’ll still obviously need to stock up on plenty of filters to survive for years. The Platypus Gravityworks Filter System provides the same benefits in a portable package for jaunts away from your basecamp. Remember to stock up on filters though for this solution as well.
Solar distillers are the ultimate long-term water solution, because they even ditch the need for filters — but they’re also slow and depend on sunlight. DIY types could potentially create one on their own. A few folks also sell models.
Power & Communication
Sorry, there’s no app for this
You can forget about producing enough juice to keep your flatscreen flashing and your microwave binging over the years — media-obsessed survivors will have to mourn the loss over dreams of their dead Netflix subscriptions. Still, keeping small devices like flashlights and radios ready at a moment’s notice is definitely possible — at least for a while. The best longterm tools for generating power leverage either solar or kinetic hand crank energy. Cranking is the best backstop for obvious reasons. K-tor makes a crank-able pocket socket that outputs 10W with elbow grease. They also offer a pedal-powered solution for spelling your arms. Midland USA makes a handcrank-powered radio capable of accessing AM/FM stations as well as all 7 NOAA weather bands. It can also be powered by AA batteries if you’ve got them and can output power to USB devices as well.
Getting the most from your low self discharge (LSD) NiMH batteries requires diligent maintenance. While manufacturers claim these batteries can be stored for up to two years without damage, many battery enthusiasts recommend refreshing your stored batteries every six months by discharging the cells to 1V and then charging them back up. This “exercises” the cells to bring them up closer to their full capacity. They should then be put back into storage (preferably in a cold environment) with a moderate charge. Using a compatible NiHM smart charger will ensure you get the longest life out of your dwindling stash; keeping track of which batteries have been cycled in this manner with a sharpie is also useful.
True communication, however, is a two-way street. Ham and CB radios are the tools preferred by most diehards due to their extended ranges and reliability, but they both have trade-offs. You need a government-issued license and some schooling to operate a long range Ham radio — not so for a CB. This is less of an issue in a world where the government no longer exists. The real struggle for both options, however, is power consumption — since both require some Macgyvering to a more robust power supply, like a car battery, to operate. Battery-powered GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) and FRS (Family Radio Service) radio handsets are more realistic acquisitions that will allow you to stay in touch with family in close range. Higher-powered GMRS radios typically offer 1 or 2 watts of power and can travel on a total of 22 channels including all FRS bands (you technically need an FCC license to operate on some channels legally, but it’s not required for purchase). These units have a longer range than FRS models — topping out at 10 miles in absolute ideal conditions — but less than two miles is a more realistic expectation for daily use. FRS models typically operate with a half-watt of power and can transmit over a total of 14 channels with a lower effective range. Suffice to say, given your lack of radio knowledge and limited planning window, your hopes of contacting a larger force or group across bigger distances will have to rest on signal fires, flares and vigorous yodeling.
Since these radios and other small electronics will require battery power, it’s a good idea to stock up on LSD NiMH (Low Self Discharge Nickel-Metal-Hydride) rechargeable batteries, such as the Eneloop brand from Sanyo. This type of battery is particularly beneficial in long-term survival scenarios, since they hold 85% residual capacity after 1 year of storage and 70% after 2 years of storage, can be recharged up to 1,000 times, and provide high performance even in low temps. Planning ahead to make sure all of your devices operate on the same batteries will save you grief in the future too.
The best scenario for keeping these rechargeables working as long as possible involves using an external solar panel to power a NiMH optimized “smart charger” that senses when a particular battery is at full capacity and prevents harmful overcharging. Solar panels are available in a wide variety of sizes and outputs. Companies like Powerfilm make plenty of excellent portable options, but this 10 watt foldable version provides the correct voltage and current requirements ideally suited for the T-2299 Universal Smart Battery Charger and also features a 12 volt DC adaptor to connect seamlessly.
Light & Heat
Remember when campfires were quaint?
Fire and the heat it generates are more about comfort, light and protection from the wilds than anything else, at least in the earlier phases of our plans, thanks to the aforementioned supplies of MREs. But the ability to make flames on demand is still of critical importance. Wood is typically the most prevalent naturally occurring combustion fuel out there, and it should be around long after “modern” fuel sources have dried up. The classic Swedish FireSteel is good for more than 1,500 strikes and can provide a spark to kindling on demand. A magnesium fire starter block trumps the fire steel, since it can light even wet wood — but it does diminish over time as the block is “shaved” down.
He cherished the flame carefully and awkwardly. It meant life, and it must not perish. The withdrawal of blood from the surface of his body now made him begin to shiver, and he grew more awkward. A large piece of green moss fell squarely on the little fire. He tried to poke it out with his fingers, but his shivering frame made him poke too far, and he disrupted the nucleus of the little fire, the burning grasses and tiny twigs separating and scattering.
— Jack London, “To Build a Fire”
Wood-burning stoves are a great way to safely start fires for heat and cooking in the home. Picking up a residential model with a catalytic combustor is a question of give or take. They’re more efficient and help eliminate the smoke and odor associated with a fire — meaning you’re less likely to reveal your location to unwanted wanderers. But they also require more maintenance. Smaller options, like the StoveTec Stove line, are durable, long lasting solutions that can migrate with you. Backpacking style models like the SoloStove are the ideal choice for days away from the home base.
Orion Signal Flares / Fire Starters should be kept on hand and used sparingly — largely for their effect as an emergency signal. Since they burn for five minutes at over 34,000 degrees, they’ll also help quickly light fires in the bleakest scenarios — just like putting the back of the Batmobile to a pile of dry garbage.
On the light front, a good LED headlamp is always a smart idea since it illuminates what you’re doing while keeping your hands free to work. Any LED AAA-powered model in the Petzle Tikka line is a great choice thanks to the inclusion of red LEDS in addition to traditional white. Using the red LEDs alone can help maintain night vision while still letting you see what you need. The Mammut T-Trail + Ambient Light Dry Bag is another nifty setup that combines a useful dry bag with a reliable headlamp to create a makeshift lantern for ambient lighting.
Options like the SwissLight rechargeable personal light and the Nightstar Shake Flashlight are viable solutions when batteries eventually die. The Swisslight doesn’t offer a ton of light with its one LED, but its small size and integrated solar panel make it a great everyday carry. The Nightstar Flashlight provides up to 20 minutes of light with 25-30 seconds of shaking. It’s also waterproof up to a depth of 2200 feet.